Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Sunday, December 31, 2017

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part Two

Genealogy is full of patterns. Of course, we have the basic pedigree chart and the overused analogy to a tree structure, but within the information about our families, if we are perceptive, we can also see patterns that help us understand who we are and where we came from. Sometimes these patterns are so obscure as to be almost imperceptible. In these cases, it is vitally important to understand the patterns in the historical context that created them.

In our current age of instant communication around the world and rapid transportation, our families can live and work almost anywhere. In my own family, my children and their family members live in Arizona, Utah, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, California, Germany and we live in Maryland. Unless you are aware of their occupations and employment, you would miss the pattern. In the next year, that pattern will change again and continue changing as family members get new jobs and move to new places.

The contrast between today's reality and the reality of those of our ancestors that lived in the past increases as we go back in time. No one living today can remember when the only way you could travel was on foot, by horse, in a boat, or in a wagon. The change came beginning in about 1830 with the development of railroads. The first railroad in America was the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad which began its first commercial transport on February 28, 1827. You might recall that the first transcontinental railroad was not completed until May 10, 1869.

By Andrew J. Russell - Yale University Libraries, Public Domain,
What was life like for our ancestors who lived before there was rapid transportation? That is a question every genealogist should be asking themselves every time they look at a pedigree chart or family tree. We also have to recognize the fact that the railroads had little impact on those people living away from the few tracks that existed until the invention of the automobile. That event took place in America in 1871 with the invention of the first carriage-sized automobile that could navigate the existing wagon roads. It was invented in 1871 by Dr. J. W. Carhart, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal Church in Racine, Wisconsin. I can personally remember talking to some of my older relatives who remembered seeing the first automobile in their small rural communities.

The rate of travel was and still is a major factor in our history. The fact that I can live in Maryland when I have spent most of my life in Arizona and Utah is due in part to our transportation system.

But for our ancestors, transportation was slow and hugely time-consuming. This fact should always remind one of the First Rule of Genealogy: When the baby was born, the mother was there. The further we go back in time, the more important this rule becomes. I am constantly seeing entries in online family trees that show children in a family in the 1700s or early 1800s that are supposedly born in different states, counties or even countries. Absent some very specific documentation of the movement of the family, these lists are almost always inaccurate conglomerations of "same name = same person or family."

But there are real instances where people moved or migrated from one area to another. The westward expansion of the United States during the 1800s is one of the best examples. But even with this example, we have to look to history for its limits. The Louisiana Purchase occurred in 1803. So we cannot expect an ancestor to be born west of the Mississippi any earlier than the first settlements later in the 1800s.

Since the modes of transportation were limited, the parts of the country that could be accessed were also limited. Those of us who have lived in the western part of the United States are not much impressed with the "mountains" in the east, but we can drive through those mountains on freeways or fly over them in airplanes. For someone on foot or following a wagon, those mountains were a real obstacle to travel. For this reason, the migration routes were limited by the geography of the area being crossed. Deep valleys and rivers provided the only access routes across the higher mountain ranges. Interestingly, if you look at a map of the U.S. Freeway system today, you will see an outline of some of those same, traditional access routes.

Public Domain,

There is a real physically dependent reason why the freeways follow the routes of the old wagon roads.

You can see the first part of this series here:

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Citing "My Father's Book"

Two of the fundamental rules of genealogical research are the rules that you need to have a record or document source for every conclusion and then cite your sources. This is a topic I have written about over 1600 times. You would think that maybe one or two people would get the message. But here I go again writing about having sources and then citing them.

Genealogy is not something you just make up in your spare time. The whole idea is that genealogy is based on history. Your history, my history, everybody's history. Unfortunately, rather than being based on history, the popular part of genealogy has evolved into a copycat deluge. Despite the fact that all four of the major online genealogical database programs provide automatically generated "record hints" the content of the hints are mostly ignored. In those time periods or areas where there are no hints, the information in the online family trees is woefully inaccurate in most cases.

I am not painting a dismal picture of genealogy. Much of what is recorded online is accurate and supported by abundant sources. But those who are attracted to genealogical research because of its popularity or because of the promotional efforts of the online programs and generally not told about the methodology of producing a reliable pedigree. The main difficulty is that even though valid, supported information is added, there is no way to purge the system of the old inaccurate information. So, when information is copied from a "record hint" or from another family tree, the inaccurate information is copied as well as the accurate information. Here is an example.

This entry in my own family tree on has five record hints. The first hint comes from a collection called, "Family Data Collection - Deaths." What is this collection? It was compiled from a medical study that gathered genealogical data for use in the study of human genetics and disease. Here is the pertinent quote from the explanation of the record given by Ancestry.
Compiling data for genetic research does not require the same type of documentation as traditional genealogical research. The genes themselves verify relationships and qualify or disqualify a person from a particular study. Citing the source of every genealogical fact in the electronic gene pool was deemed unnecessary and cost prohibitive by medical researchers. Millions of individual records were created from birth, marriage and death records; obituaries; probate records; books of remembrance; family histories; genealogies; family group sheets; pedigree charts; and other sources. The records collected that did not fit a specific study became the project's by-products and were schedule to be discarded. After viewing the quality of the source material used to create the gene pool and despite the absence of cited documentation, the electronic rights to the data were purchased, rather than see it destroyed.
In short, this collection was copied from copies. If you bother to read the rest of the explanation, you will see the following suggestion:
Use this database as a finding tool, just as you would any other secondary source. When you find the name of an ancestor listed, confirm the facts in original sources, such as birth, marriage, and death records, church records, census enumerations, and probate records for the place where the even took place.
How many people are going to click on and read this explanation before attaching this "record hint" to their family tree? What if the information happens to be wrong and the record hint is used anyway? Now there is a "source" and the validity of the entry appears to be supported by a "source." In the example of this information for Samuel Linto, the information happens to be correct, but could just as easily have been incorrect.

The title of this post comes from a response I got when I questioned the addition of some birth and death information to an individual in the Family Tree. The person entering the information apparently did not have access to "the book" but entered the information without knowing where the "book" got the information in the first place. In this case, the information from the "book" referred to another person with the same name as the entry being changed in the Family Tree and was not accurate in any event.

The second record hint for Samuel Linton is an example of an inaccurate record hint, but one that has been so widely disseminated as to become impossible to correct. This record hint lists Samuel Linton's birthplace as "Murbin, Tyronne, Ireland." I spent about fifteen years off and on searching for this location and trying to identify where Samuel Linton was born in Ireland. I finally identified the location as Mulvin, Tyrone, Ireland. So where did this wrong information come from? The same copied collection called the "Family Data Collection - Births." The trap here is that the first record hint from this collection was accurate and verifiable, the second record hint for the birthplace was wrong.

The next record hint is also a trap. It purports to be a "U.S. Social Security Applications and Claims Indes, 1936-2007" with an entry for Samuel Linton. However, if the death date given in the first hint is correct then Samuel Linton died many years before the Social Security System was established. What is this record hint? If you click around you will find the long explanation of where this information came from. Here is a screenshot of the information provided.

The information could be accurate, but unless the person looking at the entry goes beyond this entry, there is no way to know if the information is useful. This entry actually applies to Mary Morgan. Here is the entry linked to Mary Morgan.

This information is also inaccurate. Her maiden name was "Mary Ann Linton" from birth records but neither of the Ancestry entries reflect her birth name.

These are examples of the need to look carefully at the sources and to avoid copying copies. Without a general community-wide awareness of this need, we will keep getting copies of copies and preserving inaccurate information.

Part of the blame for this situation lies with the individuals, but more lies with the large online companies who think they have "protected themselves" from criticism by explaining the traps but still promote the traps at the same time.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Genealogy in 2017 - The Infinite Monkey Theorem

By New York Zoological Society - This file was derived from  Chimpanzee seated at a typewriter.tif:, Public Domain,
Quoting from the Wikipedia article, "Infinite monkey theorem:"
The infinite monkey theorem states that a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare. In fact the monkey would almost surely type every possible finite text an infinite number of times. However, the probability that monkeys filling the observable universe would type a complete work such as Shakespeare's Hamlet is so tiny that the chance of it occurring during a period of time hundreds of thousands of orders of magnitude longer than the age of the universe is extremely low (but technically not zero). 
In this context, "almost surely" is a mathematical term with a precise meaning, and the "monkey" is not an actual monkey, but a metaphor for an abstract device that produces an endless random sequence of letters and symbols. One of the earliest instances of the use of the "monkey metaphor" is that of French mathematician Émile Borel in 1913, but the first instance may have been even earlier.
Unfortunately, this time-worn theorem is now hopelessly out of date. We have a whole generation of young people who have never even seen an actual typewriter. But I am not so much interested in whether or not the hypothetical monkey could produce the complete works of William Shakespeare, because, as genealogists, we have started our own "infinite monkey" exercise. For genealogists, the theorem should read something like this:
Can an infinite number of genealogists randomly hitting keys on an infinite number of computers for a relatively infinite period of time produce one believable family tree?
For me, 2017 was a good year for illustrating the type of content that genealogists can produce by random typing. One example occurred recently when a user of the family tree modified one entry for a relative to show that his parents were four years old when he was born. I can only guess that the number picked for the birth date of my relative was random since there was no source attached showing where the number originated.

Since there are now millions of family trees online from millions of aspiring genealogists, one can only suppose that any conceivable relationship has now been generated. For years, the genealogical literature has been highlighted by articles asking if we are related to some celebrity or another. With the proliferation of online family trees, we are almost guaranteed to be related to everyone on the face of the earth so why not celebrities? I must be getting really out of touch because I have no idea concerning the identity of most of the celebrities featured in the articles and I might be related. For example, one featured celebrity was a singer named Pat Benatar who we learn from the article was born Patricia Mae Andrzejewski. I guess I am not related to John Wayne either since his name was Marion Mitchell Morrison.

Who would have guessed at the beginning of 2017, I would be living in Annapolis, Maryland and be working in a State Archive? I guess those infinite number of monkeys were working overtime on my 2017 genealogy year.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

From Whence and to Thither -- Understanding Migration Patterns: Part One
This detailed map shows the following:
This exhaustive map includes 51 infographics (for each state plus Washington, DC). The right column of the infographic covers how many immigrants settled in the state each year; the left column shows their occupations. The top depicts the ethnic mix, color-coded by race: Teutonic, Keltic, Slavic, Iberic, Mongolic, and “all others." See "37 Maps That Explain How America Is A Nation Of Immigrants."
A migration pattern is a historical reconstruction taken from records that map the most common routes taken by immigrants from one country to another or from one section of America to another.

As I help people with genealogical research, I commonly find that very few researchers are aware of the patterns of migration as they affect their ancestors. For example, when I find an ancestor who lived in Ohio or Indiana or Kentucky or any other place in America, one of the first questions I ask concerns the ancestor's origin. With few exceptions, genealogists are unaware of the concept of migration and have no idea about the pattern or origin of the settlers in the areas where their ancestors lived.

It is obvious that your ancestors did not just appear suddenly in any particular geographic area. Knowledge of migrations patterns is crucial in helping to identify elusive ancestors and in distinguishing between individuals with the same or similar names. For example, if you find an ancestor in Kentucky in the early 1800s: where did the family most probably originate? Migration patterns provide the most likely places of origin and help to prioritize research objectives.

Explaining the background and context of historical migration patterns in America is not a subject for a short article or a single blog post. Since the existence of a migration route is embedded in the historical context of the time, understanding any particular migration route involves a study of both the pertinent history and applicable geography. From a practical standpoint, it is a good idea to divide migration into pre- and post-industrial revolution time periods. As the United States became industrialized, travel became faster and more available. From a genealogical standpoint, the rules concerning the distance anyone could have traveled to get married or bear a child, expanded with the overall availability of transportation and likewise naturally contract as we go back in time. Even after the Industrial Revolution, notwithstanding the increased availability of transportation from one area to another, it is still common to find a family or families living in the same geographic area for generations.

Migration patterns are also closely related to settlement patterns. However, settlement patterns are more prone to dependency on the availability of land, employment in any given area, and other economic considerations. In America, settlement patterns also often reflect the ultimate origin of the immigrants. For example, German-speaking immigrants tended to settle near others who spoke the same language. On the other hand, early colonial era migration patterns reflect the geography and topology of the land more than any other consideration.

In addition to the migration patterns, that tend to be summaries of historical population movements, individual concerns played a major role in determining the movement of individuals within the general population. For example, primogeniture or the pattern of inheritance where the oldest son received the property from his father, also created an incentive for younger sons to immigrate to another part of the continent. These movements or migrations across America and in other countries were not random. Individuals may be unpredictable, but masses of people follow a pattern.

In this series, I will be discussing the major population movements and the patterns of migration that affect genealogical research. Stay tuned for future posts.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Research Log Bugaboo

The research log is an ingrained traditional part of the accepted genealogical methodology. From my observation, nearly every book written about doing genealogical research has as its core some form of a research log. Quoting from the Research Wiki on
Value of Research Logs 
Good research logs help you:
  • Cite your sources. This shows quality research.
  • Sort out what has and has not been found.
  • Organize and correlate copies of documents.
  • Weigh evidence to make better conclusions, and better lineage links.
  • Show your search strategies and questions.
  • Reduce unwanted duplication of effort.
Research logs show negative evidence (what you do not find). NO other tool does this nearly as well. And logs save time by helping avoid repetitive searches after a research pause. Logs can become a table of contents to documents in your file. Research logs serve as a foundation on which the next generation of researchers can build. Use research logs to help in EVERY step of the research process.
The bugaboo here is "avoid repetitive searches."

(If you don't know the meaning of any word I use, look it up on Google. Type in "define [word you want to define]." There is a space between the word "define" and the word you want to define. Also, you do not need the brackets.

Why do I want to avoid repetitive searches? The answer is that you don't. Let's suppose you are searching New England Town Records. Here is an example of what you might be looking at:

How many names are on this page? How many of these individuals are potential relatives? Is there information on this page that you might use in the future? How many times will you have to go back through this record as you continue to do research in this particular location? If you treat your Research Log like a checklist of places you have searched, then when will you come back to this record? What has changed since the genealogical community started the idea of Research Logs?

Originally, genealogists focused on their direct line ancestors. The idea was to build a pedigree back as far as possible (i.e. back to Adam). Currently, the emphasis has changed. Now, we are interested in finding our relatives or the descendants of our direct line ancestors. If you were researching one ancestor in a town in New England, you would look through the town record and if you did not find the ancestor in the years estimated for his or her life, you would move on to a new record. Today, you are going to live with that town record for a long time. Even if you do not find one specific ancestor, you might find people in another descendancy line. Effectively, there is almost no chance that you would be relying on negative evidence.

The Research Wiki description above is simply out-of-date in a serious way. So am I advocating the abandonment of Research Logs altogether? Not really, what I am advocating is a different was of looking at sources. Just as you may go back to the same U.S. Census multiple times as your objectives change over time, you may need to go back to any other record also. Rather than keep list of places and dates, you examined a record, how about writing a narrative of your conclusions and the records you have looked at to support those conclusions. That does not mean that you will not go back and look at those same documents again, as is assumed by the traditional checklist approach to research, but you will review the documents, again and again, to make sure there was nothing you missed the first time. This will happen as a natural result of the evolution of your research conclusions.

People have a tendency to treat computers as glorified word processors. With the introduction of the internet, the computer became an extension of your own memory. When you are using a computer as a research tool, you are magnifying your own ability to search, retain, and analyze information. Rather than write down the citation to a record on a Research Log, I can incorporate a digitized copy of the record with a link to its origin right in my research narrative. Rather than having a static pile of photocopies or handwritten notes, the document can become an integral part of the research evaluation process.

What do my research notes look like? Part of this answer depends on the program I am using to record my information. There is an assumption in all the suggested uses of Research Logs that you will make a list of all the places you looked. Why? Well, I am back around the circle again. How do know that the next time you look at the record or document that your perspective will not have changed and you will see the document in a new light and it will solve your problem? This has happened to me so many times that I could not possibly take the position that I had "negative evidence" simply because I did not find what I was looking for the first time around.

Where do I keep the information? Anyplace that is convenient. Right now, I am using Google Docs to keep my narratives. You might like some other program. The main consideration is the fact that the information stored in the program is available on any of your devices, iPads, smartphones etc.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Attitudes and Deficits

Note: at the time I wrote this post, the Ancestral Quest Newsletter for December 2017 was not yet in their archives.

The December 2017 Newsletter from Incline Software caught my eye with an article entitled, "Attitude and Solving Common Causes of Problems." They had a list of seven "attitudes" that they said interfered with your tough genealogical research challenges and prevented you from having success. I thought about the list and decided to make comments of my own about their assessment of the challenges. I also decided to rework the labels they put on their seven items.

Here I go with my list of my own suggested challenges based on ideas from the Incline Software Newsletter.

1. Lack of fundamental research skills

Our American school system gives lip service to teaching basic research skills but fails to give students an understanding of the importance of research in everyday life. When we moved to Maryland from Utah, I spent quite a bit of time online researching the area where we would live. I viewed maps and articles about the layout of the cities, the transportation systems, the libraries and archives, the stores and other information which I believed vital to my survival. When we got here, I found out that some of the other volunteers did not even have internet access. They had to rely on word of mouth information to find the businesses they needed to survive.

This example is exactly applicable to what happens with those beginning genealogical research. When I started my own research around 35 years ago, I had already acquired basic research skills through both university and post-graduate degrees. But I still had to learn how to do genealogical research. Too many people assume that they can skip the learning part of genealogy because after all, genealogy (family history) is fun and easy. Actually, it is complicated, difficult and challenging.

If you are confronted with difficult historical research issues, your response should be to get to work and learn how to become more educated in basic research skills.

2. Use the tools that are available 

Genealogical research is far different than it was just a few years ago. The availability of online digitized records is revolutionizing historical research methodologies. It is absolutely imperative that you acquire superior technical skills to even begin to understand how or why to do research today.

3. Dogmatic research strategies

You can't just assume that the basic "big three" records sets (census records, vital records, cemetery records) will answer every question raised by your research. You need to keep searching for additional valuable record sets such as probate, school, church and other records to augment your research. Once again, the key here is continuing education.

4. Inappropriate attitude

The word I never use is "boring." I cannot be bored. I can be tired and sleepy and distracted, but I am never bored. Repetitive activities do not require the same level of concentration as doing more varied ones. Research is, by its nature, repetitive. You need to focus on the problem to be solved and understand the reading through endless microfilm rolls and other types of records are part of the process and boredom is not an option.

5. Remember to research the entire community

This is the most misunderstood and little-used methodology by genealogists today. You have to spend the time to do broader research into extended family members and neighbors and other associates. This is not always necessary for basic research, but when you find further information is missing or difficult to discover, it is time to start looking at the children in depth, neighbors, and others that may have come in contact with your ancestors.

6. Poor record keeping habits

This is part of basic research methodology. I keep research logs online where I can use them from any of my electronic devices. My logs are more like lists of ideas and theories that they are a mechanical list of places I have looked. I reject the "traditional" research log because it is more like a checklist. I find myself going back to the same record sources time and again and finding things I missed in the first, second or any subsequent review. You need to rethink the concept of a research log and use a method that helps you rather than puts you in a formal straight jacket.

7. Document, Document and then Document

Make sure you have a record source for every conclusion you make about your ancestors. Period. No exceptions.

Like I said, I agree with the seven topics in the Incline Software article, but I had some of my own ideas.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Exploring Maryland's Genealogical Resources
Moving to the East Coast puts me in the middle of a couple of hundred extra years of history and genealogy. But unfortunately, all of my family lines go to New England and particularly Massachusetts, Rhode Island and some in Connecticut. But I am glad for the opportunity to help digitize records here in Maryland. During the time I am here, I will be exploring the resources of Maryland and the surrounding states and maybe even up in New England.

I can start off with the Maryland Genealogical Society. The Maryland Genealogical Society was established quite recently in 1959. The Society works in partnership with the Maryland Historical Society, the state's oldest continuously operating cultural institution.

Here is a description of the Maryland Historical Society from their website:
Founded in 1844, the Maryland Historical Society (MdHS) is the state’s oldest continuously operating cultural institution. In keeping with the founders’ commitment to preserve the remnants of Maryland’s past, MdHS remains the premier institution for state history. With over 350,000 objects and seven million books and documents, this institution now serves upward of 100,000 people through its museum, library, press, and educational programs.
I will also focus on the historical and genealogical resources in Washington, D.C. 

The Heritage Library, History and Ancestry Research Center
The Heritage Library, History and Ancestry Research Center is located on Hilton Head Island in South Carolina. Here is a description from the website.
The Heritage Library is a private reference library and research center which is open to the public at a modest daily fee of ten dollars. 
It is one of the most comprehensive libraries of its kind in the region, with microfilm readers, computers, high-speed Web service and collections of books, microfilm, microfiche, CD-ROM, manuscripts, periodicals, video tapes, audio tapes, and maps. South Carolina materials account for about 10 percent of the holdings. The balance covers other states and many countries. 
The Library houses the records of The Hilton Head Island Historical Society containing a wealth of historical information, old photographs, and maps of Hilton Head Island and the Low Country. 
The library is an affiliated library of the Family History Library operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here you view microfilm and microfiche maintained by the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.

Also, patrons of the Library have access to major online databases at, (formerly, (formerly NEHGS), and HeritageQuest Online through the Library’s network.
Historical society libraries are all essentially "private" collections maintained by the society. This particular library is typical of such organizations. These types of organizations can often provide unique information about a particular geographic area. For example, if my family came from Annapolis, where I am now living, I would do a Google search for a local historical society or genealogical society using the location. As genealogists, we sometimes forget that we are really historians and that historical organizations also have valuable genealogical information and documents. 

By the way, it appears that the South Carolina Heritage Library has moved and will reopen in January 2018. Please check the website for an update on the opening and the location. 

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Famous Ancestor Challenge

Being related to a famous ancestor or the expectation of finding such a relationship is often cited as an incentive for initiating an interest in genealogy. But the reality of fame is that the genealogy can get very messy. For example, the Mayflower passengers have so many duplicates on the Family Tree that untangling their reality can be a full-time job. Here are some of the considerations you need to take into account before claiming a relationship with a famous person.

1. The person needs to have actually existed.

Religious beliefs and traditional family stories are not always a good indicator of a valid historical relationship. Some well-known historical figures actually have very little valid historical documentation. For example, there are probably few people who are not familiar with
Robin Hood, although there is little evidence of his historicity. Quoting from the BBC website article entitled, "Robin Hood and his Historical Context."
The origins of the Robin Hood legend are very obscure. The first literary reference to Robin Hood comes from a passing reference in Piers Plowman, written some time around 1377, and the main body of tales date from the fifteenth century. These are found in the tales of Robin Hood and the Monk (c.1450); The Lyttle Geste of Robyn Hode (written down c.1492-1510, but probably composed c.1400); and the C17th Percy Folio, which contains three C15th stories: Robin Hoode his Death, Robin Hood and Guy of Gisborne and Robin Hood and the Curtal Friar.
We also have a lot of "famous" people who are authentically historical but have been so romanticized that the details of their lives have merged with fable and myth. For example, Abraham Lincoln is a well documented historical figure but many incidents in his life have taken on a patina of fable and myth. Another such example is the American frontiersman, Daniel Boone, who was definitely a historical figure but whose life has been fictionalized to the point where he has become a legend. Most famous historical figures have some of the same baggage.

2. The famous person needs to have documented descendants.

In my own family lines, I had a family tradition that we were related to Daniel Boone. This was based solely on the fact that Daniel Boone's mother' name was Sarah Morgan and we had a Morgan surname ancestral line. Incidentally, the Boone family has been well documented. See the However, the line of his mother, Sarah Morgan, has little documentation. Here is a statement from RootsWeb about Sarah Morgan.
Sarah Jarman Morgan
Among the Welsh Quakers was a family of Morgans. In 1720 Squire Boone, a son of George and Mary (Maugridge) Boone married Sarah Morgan. A Welch American planter of note who came early to Pennsylvania was Edward Morgan, the grandfather of two grea t Americans: Daniel Boone of Kentucky, son of Squire and Sarah (Morgan) Boone and Gen. Daniel Morgan, according to Quaker records. (Ref. P.22 Boone Bulletin and American Pioneer Records, Vol II 1934-39)
Every effort has been made to learn something of the ancestry of Sarah Morgan, wife of Squire Boone but without appreciable results. It is claimed, of course, that Sarah's father was Edward Morgan of Gwynedd, Philadelphia, PA., and her marriage re cord shows that fact beyond all doubt. It is also reasonably certain that her brothers and sisters were the young Morgans, whose marriage records like her own, state that they were children of Edward Morgan of Gwynedd. Beyond these facts there i s nothing authentic upon which to base any statement connecting Sarah (Morgan) Boone with any other Morgan family record. In "Life of Gen. Daniel Morgan of the Virginia line" by James Graham we find, "It is interesting to know that these two famo us fighters of the Revolutionary period, Daniel Morgan and Daniel Boone were first cousins, but we have found no adequate proof of this connection."
 Unfortunately, those claiming a connection to famous people often ignore the existing documentation and start matching names rather than extending the available research.

3. Famous people did have ancestors and children.

Can you tell me the names of any of Daniel Boone's children? My point here is that even though famous people have ancestors and children, that fact alone does not make any of us related. Over the years, I have been asked about my relationship to other Tanners hundreds of times. But only those Tanners who originated in Rhode Island are possibly related and there are several unrelated Tanner families in Rhode Island. Any connection to a famous person comes about as a result of careful, documented research going back in time and not as a result of assuming a relationship and looking for the descendants.

4. Apps or programs that show your relationship to famous people are only as accurate as the data they rely on.

There are genealogy programs that rely on an online family tree or accumulations of family trees that purport to show you how you are related to famous or notorious people. Close relationships can be documented but all distant relationships are questionable. One such program, for example, seems to be extremely accurate with close relatives because it is just repeating what is in my own family tree. But when it begins to make connections beyond direct line family members, the results start to look like fiction. For example, one relationship is characterized as a "5th cousin 2 times removed." What is that? Can you even understand the relationship of a fifth cousin? In reality, such a relationship goes back to an ancestor who supposedly lived in the 1600s. Absent some considerable research, there is no real way to verify such relationships.

5. Begin to appreciate your own documented ancestors, famous or not.

Every one of us has ancestors with fabulous stories to tell. I have very few documented "famous" ancestors, but even the ones who are not famous have fascinating and extraordinary stories. Start appreciating what you have and forget about searching for remote connections to some famous person. Learn about your own parents and grandparents. You just might find out that fame isn't everything.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

First-ever Public Copies of the Death Index for Buffalo, New York, for the years 1852-1944
Reclaim the Records scored another big advance in obtaining records for genealogical research. Here is a quote from their announcement:
Hello again from Reclaim The Records! We're back with some great new records to share with everyone, obtained through a New York State Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. We're happy to announce that we've obtained and published the first-ever public copies of the death index for Buffalo, New York, for the years 1852-1944 -- almost a full century of data! 
We don't have an exact count, but we estimate that there are about 640,000 names listed in these records. Buffalo was one of the top fifteen most populous American cities, and was occasionally in the top ten, during this 1852-1944 time period. 
These records have never been online before, nor were they on FamilySearch microfilm. They were only available if you physically sat in the Buffalo Inactive Records center, and that was all. Well, we at Reclaim The Records decided to change that. And here they are now!
You would think that the government offices in New York State would start to get the message by now that these public records are public. These records are being posted on the Internet Archive or You might make a note of that and realize that is a valuable resource for original genealogically important records.

You may wish to read the complete explanation about these records from Buffalo. There are some really interesting comments about the lack of professionalism shown by both the City of Buffalo and the people they hired to do the digitization. Since I am starting to work at the Maryland State Archives, I can assure everyone that the work we do is subject to strict compliance with standards as to readability and format. Too bad the City of Buffalo didn't get FamilySearch to digitize the records.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Freeway Cemeteries

In driving across the country recently, I began to notice the medians between the two lanes of the freeway. I noticed that the median was mostly grass and well tended and I thought that this would be an ideal place for cemeteries. There are likely millions of acres of unused land going to waste as space fillers between the concrete or asphalt roadways. These huge unused parcels are just begging to be used as cemeteries. I thought about this concept and decided that I could form a non-profit corporation to promote the idea of using the freeway medians as cemetery property. On the Interstate System, the Federal Government would have a new source of revenue from selling cemetery lots and the users would benefit from the increased awareness of their gravesites. Access could be obtained from the existing turnarounds which are now reserved only for law enforcement and service vehicles.

I mentioned my idea to my wife who immediately saw a downside in the noise during graveside funerals. I noted that many of the cemeteries in our country are already on major highways and main streets and the noise factor would be no worse than is already in existence. In addition, some of the medians are far apart and the land in between the two roadways is wooded and the noise factor would be minimal.

Having just very recently taken a wrong turn, ending up on a freeway going away from where I wanted to be, and driving miles before an exit was available, I am already aware of that problem, but adequate signage and long turning lanes for entry would solve that issue.

This is a win-win situation, not only do the deceased get much greater visibility, the public, in general, is benefited from the accessibility and convenience of having a quick look at their ancestors as they drive by.

Anyone out there who wants to help me sponsor this new project?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at #RootsTech 2018

if you need a reason to attend #RootsTech 2018, this is the best one yet. It is not often that you get the opportunity to hear one of the most influential and articulate people of our time in person. Here is your introduction to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. Emmy Award-winning filmmaker, literary scholar, journalist, cultural critic, and institution builder, Professor Gates has authored or co-authored 22 books and created 18 documentary films, including Wonders of the African World, African American Lives, Faces of America, Black in Latin America, Black America since MLK: And Still I Rise, Africa’s Great Civilizations, and Finding Your Roots, his groundbreaking genealogy series now in its fourth season on PBS. His six-part PBS documentary series, The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross (2013), which he wrote, executive produced, and hosted, earned the Emmy Award for Outstanding Historical Program—Long Form, as well as the Peabody Award, Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Award, and NAACP Image Award.
He will be the keynote speaker on March 3, 2018. #RootsTech, the world's largest genealogy conference, will be held from February 28 to March 3, 2018, at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah. There is still time to register.

If you cannot attend in person, you can watch live selected portions of the Conference on the #RootsTech website.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Integrating Genealogy Into Your Lifestyle

The term "lifestyle" has been used a lot the last few years as the focus of our society, especially here in the United States, has become more "me" oriented. I never could figure out what my own "lifestyle" consisted of. The term lifestyle also seems to go with the term "active retirement" and even the idea of having a "bucket list." All of these concepts seem foreign to me. When I retired from my active law practice (more based on interests rather than economics) I was already so heavily involved in genealogy that I hardly noticed the change. I simply did more writing and more research. I also continued to volunteer at the Mesa FamilySearch Library.

However, I realize, in talking to some of my friends, that the idea of retirement evokes every emotion from anticipation to terror. One of my friends was facing a year-end retirement situation and was at a complete loss as to what he would be doing once he did not come to the office every day. In his case, he was facing a serious "lifestyle" change in the current jargon.

Genealogy can be a total "lifestyle" commitment. I happen to associate with people who, like me, wake up thinking about genealogy and go to bed with the same topic. I am certain that this "lifestyle" has little general attraction and few would look forward to doing something as time intensive and totally adsorbing as genealogy when they finally "retire." In fact, few can fit genealogical research into their current "busy" days even if they are far from retiring.

When the "outside world" thinks of genealogy or family history, they think of a "hobby" or part-time activity that might take a few hours a month, not an all-encompassing activity that looks a lot like a full-time job. True, you could do a little bit of research once and while and consider yourself a genealogist or family historian. But from my perspective, genealogy is a professional level activity. My genealogical activity actually takes me more time and mental effort than my intense legal trial practice.

Is there a middle ground? Can you be a "genealogist" and still have a life outside of genealogy? Of course, the answer is yes. By the way, I am not the best example of a balance between genealogy and other interests, but just because there are "full-time" genealogists does not mean that there is no place for those with less time and inclination.

American Ancestors Opens New Mayflower Passengers Website
With the opening of a new Mayflower Passengers website by American Ancestors, New England Historic Genealogical Society, there will be one more major source for the most reliable information for the ancestors of a significant percentage of the entire U.S. population. Quoting from the emailed announcement:
We are pleased to announce that we recently launched a new interactive website to commemorate the upcoming 400th anniversary of the Mayflower landing. The site presents the most authoritative biographies to date of the Pilgrims who set sail for a new world 397 years ago—available for free for the first time. The biographies are drawn from Robert Charles Anderson’s Pilgrim Migration, the biographical details include information on births, marriage, children, and roles in Plymouth Colony. As we approach 2020, more in-depth features and scholarly material will be added to the site to commemorate the historic Mayflower voyage.
Many of the entries for these individuals, particularly on the Family Tree, have been subject to massive duplication and variation. I commonly receive notice from FamilySearch concerning changes made to my own Mayflower ancestors with long lists of changes. For example, Mayflower Passenger, Francis Cooke, has over 45 changes to his information in the last week before this post was published.

As stated above, the year 2020 will be the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in America. I suggest that a fitting tribute to their memory would be to clean up the entries on the Family Tree and keep them consistent with the information so welcomely being provided by the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

1 Out of 5 Children in the United States are hungry and genealogy

As I am currently driving across the United States from my home in Provo, Utah to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Maryland, I have been noticing the billboards claiming a huge number of children in the United States suffering from hunger. In the past, I spent years serving in a local charity that feeds the homeless and others who need food. Also, members of my family regularly volunteer in food programs to feed school-age children. The Church is also heavily involved in humanitarian services. See These services are supported by the members' voluntary contributions and fasting from their meals on one Sunday a month.

As a result, I have had very personal interest in the problem of both homelessness and hunger in the United States and elsewhere. But I am also a former trial attorney and a genealogist and therefore I am acutely aware of the need to support anything we say or record with adequate sources. Just as I would not go to court without evidence to support my case, I would not put any information in my family tree that I could not support with documentary historical records.

Now, what about the signs I am seeing along the road? They are simply and easily proved to be false. Finding information to contradict the statements is extremely easy. See Forbes, November 20, 2011, entitled "Are One In Five American Children Hungry?"

Now, unfortunately, the same types of statements are commonly made in online family trees and other genealogical publications. One of the most common is the statement, which I heard quoted again this week, about the popularity of genealogy as either the most popular or perhaps the second most popular hobby in America today. I have posted many times about my efforts to substantiate this claim and have shown over again that it is unsupported by any valid statistics from any source whatsoever.

There are a myriad of programs including school lunches, food stamps, and other similar programs as well as private charities that provide food the hungry, As the Forbes article concludes the greater problem today is juvenile obesity, not hunger. This is not to say that juvenile hunger does not exist in America. But exaggerating the problem does not help cure the situation. Before you contribute to a charity that uses false statistics to support its fundraising, you might investigate other more forthright and deserving charities and churches that are addressing the needs of our children realistically and at the very basic level.

Going back to genealogy, it is imperative that we do not pad our family trees with publically broadcast but unsubstantiated information. If we wish to speculate, do so in privacy and don't publish your speculations online.

Digital Public Library Adds Digital Maine
The Digital Public Library of America or DPLA announced the addition of Digital Maine to their collections. This brings the number of records online on the website to 18,666,818.

As is explained by the DPLA Blog post:
As we prepare to ring in a new year, we are pleased to share the collections of Digital Maine, which joins Oklahoma, Florida, Montana, Maryland, Michigan, and Illinois, as the seventh new partner whose collections have been added to DPLA in 2017. With Maine State Library at the helm, Digital Maine contributes state documents and records, dating back to the Revolutionary War, as well as materials from local libraries and historical societies across the state. 
You’ll find some “classic Maine” materials like rocky coastlines, cold weather, and lobster recipes, but also look for the materials that uniquely represent the state’s many small towns and local communities. For example, this collection of glass plate photographs documents the rural logging town of Monson at the turn of the twentieth century. Photographs and maps from Kittery, Maine’s Rice Public Library and other institutions record the happenings at the Portsmouth Navy Yard, which dates to 1800 and is the Navy’s oldest continually operating shipyard.
As noted, many other states have now linked their digital collections to the centralized searches of the DPLA. The website lists all of the DPLA partners. For genealogists, this is an excellent list of sources for additional information. Many of the records on the DPLA are genealogically valuable. I had heard that the digital Books collection on was to be added as a partner program, but I had not heard anything more since the original announcement.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

How important is high resolution for scanning and photography?

Are you tempted to join the megapixel race? Are you concerned about the resolution of your digitization efforts for photos, paper records, and other genealogically important documents? Do you use the megapixel count of a camera or smartphone as a factor in your purchase decisions? These issues and more concern anyone trying to digitize records or take photographs. Genealogists and photographers share some of the same concerns.

I have written on this topic several times in the past. Here is a list of some past posts that deal with aspects of this topic:
This list could go on and on. In a recent post, I expressed my views on the challenges of genealogy and I included an issue about the unrealistic digital resolution and file format requirements imposed by those engineers and administrators of online collections thereby increasing inability of the larger collections to ingest smaller collections of records. On reflection, that topic needs more explanation and discussion. 

In response to my post on the challenges to genealogy, I got the following comment:
I have always been a believer that preservation should be performed at the highest possible resolution. As time has passed, as you mention, this could be 50 Megapixels today, and who know how much tomorrow? But the biggest advantage of 50 vs 12 Megapixels is the ability to zoom in and examine details closely. I have found this very helpful with things like scans of old vital records where correct interpretation of handwriting, for example, requires great magnification. It is useless if zooming in only results in a highly pixelated image. This applies likewise to photographs where the only image of GG Grandpa is a tiny section of a larger image. If I want to recognize his features clearly, I am grateful for a 50 Meg scan. Obviously, as you mention, file size (storage capacity) is an issue, but less so as time passes. Therefore, I support the ". . . unrealistic digital resolution and file format requirements imposed by those engineers and administrators of online collections . . .". Tomorrow's researchers will thank us for adhering to those high standards.
Is there a direct relationship with a high megapixel count, say 50 megapixels or more, and the ability to recognize small features in either a photograph or another type of document?

We need to start any discussion of this type with some observations about physical reality.

I will start with photographs. Analog photographs using photographic film are considered to be continuous tone images. However, the resolution of a photograph depends on the type of film used. The sensitivity of film to light is measured in a number assigned by the International Organization for Standardization or ISO or the American Standards Association, now known as the American National Standards Insitute, or ANSI whose standard is usually designated by the older acronym, ASA number. There is a direct relationship between a film's ISO/ASA number and its ability to resolve fine detail, i.e. resolution. The higher the ISO/ASA number, the larger the grains of light-sensitive material, usually some compound of silver, used to capture the image. These numbers are usually used to represent the "speed" of the film or the time it takes to form an image. The higher the numbers, say around 1000 or 2000, mean that the film is very "fast." The tradeoff is always a loss in detail i.e. graininess of the image.

There is no free lunch, greater resolution means smaller discrete light sensitive elements. Photographers know that high ISO/ASA numbers (or fast film) mean a decline in detail in direct proportion to the additional speed. For those wishing to digitally reproduce film photographs, the resolution of the copy cannot exceed the original. Any document or photograph has a certain limit of resolution. Once a duplication method reaches that point of resolution there is no more information in the original that will be lost because of the copy. It may seem counterintuitive, but higher resolution scanning or photography past a certain threshold will simply result in larger file sizes and not any more detail. Once that limit has been reached, there is no more information to obtain.

I am not here talking about photographs of real-life objects, I am talking about copying historical records and photographs, essentially digital reproductions of actual analog documents.

Here is an example of what I mean. This is a microfilmed copy of a record from the website that was previously microfilmed and has now been made available in a digitized copy:

Now, how did this image come to be on the website? In a simplified explanation, someone had access to the original record and then made a photographic copy of the original using some type of microfilm. Here, the resolution was determined by the type of film, probably with a very low ISO/ASA number below 100, i.e. with the highest amount of detail available. Now, to move this image into the digital world, FamilySearch made a digital image at some extremely high resolution (for a digital image) and then processed that image for display on its website. What about the resolution of this image? Well, first of all, it is a JPEG image and we will have to view the image on our computer's monitor. Let's see what happens to this image at magnification. Here is a screenshot of the image at 300%.

Hmm. there appear to be some problems with the original. There is a great deal of bleed through from the back of the page. What about higher resolution? Here it is again at 600%.

Is there an upper limit? Yes, here is the image is again at 800%:

At this point, further magnification will simply start more pixelation and not provide any more detail. Could this be extended indefinitely be making the original with a higher digital pixel count? In reality, the file size would increase dramatically but you would still be limited by the resolution of the original image. Here is the same image at 1200% magnification.

Any higher and the image will start to become unrecognizable. Where can you see the most detail? Guess what? That depends on how closely you look at the image. If you stand some distance back, the high magnification images look just like the ones with lower magnification.

There is a reason why the Libray of Congress established standards as set forth in its "Guidelines: Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials." There is a balance between increased resolution and the preservation of the detail in a document or photograph. Higher resolutions give you larger file sizes but at some point, no more information from the original.

There is no free lunch. You cannot beat the system and the system is physics.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Ultimate Challenges of Genealogical Access to Digitized Records

Online genealogically important historical records are rapidly transforming the way genealogists find their ancestors and extended ancestral families. Billions of new records are being added every year by the large online genealogy companies. It would seem that this flood of new records could go on indefinitely. But there are strong indications that the flood may soon diminish to a trickle unless the genealogical community can overcome some looming obstacles.

These obstacles to the continued increase in the number of online genealogical records fall into a number of categories that include the following:
  • Political restrictions on the access to records
  • The monetization of records by governments and other organizations
  • The reverse side of the principle of economies of scale, i.e. the cost of digitizing smaller collections of records
  • Unrealistically restrictive copyright and other similar restrictions on historical records
  • The unrealistic digital resolution and file format requirements imposed by those engineers and administrators of online collections thereby increasing inability of the larger collections to ingest smaller collections of records
  • The costs of maintaining ever larger databases including the costs associated with migrating file formats over time
  • The lack of community standards for record formats and the inability of users to move records from one online family tree program to another
  • Ignorance of the members of the genealogical community as to the identity and availability of online digital record collections
Here is my viewpoint on each of these obstacles:

Political restrictions on the access to records

The most difficult and pervasive obstacles to continued digitization are the politically imposed restrictions on record access around the world. In some areas, record access, much less digitization of those records, is virtually impossible. It is clear that the ability of individuals to access records is a major threat to oligarchies and repressive governments no matter what their origin or motivation. This is not an issue that is limited to national governments but can operate on a local level when politicians believe their control and power are threatened by access. In the United States, for example, we would not have national and local freedom of information statutes were politicians and bureaucrats cooperative in providing access to "public" records. In addition, the ongoing destruction of genealogically important records and the attacks on state archives and libraries continues to threaten the availability of records around the country. Absent major changes in some countries of the world and even in parts of less repressive countries, many records will remain unavailable. Ultimately, the reasonably accessible records around the world will all be "cherry picked" leaving huge numbers of records locked up by repressive governments. 

The monetization of records by governments and other organizations

It is a fact of life for genealogists that access to more and more records around the world are being used by those who maintain or archive those records as local revenue streams. This occurs wholesale, even in the United States, for many types of records. For example, in almost every state of the United States of America, if you are born, get married or die and you or your family want a copy of an official government certificate of any of those events, you will have to pay a fee to obtain a copy. In England, it a common practice for local ecclesiastical parishes to charge a fee for access to historical parish registers. I am not of the opinion that all records must be free, but the monetization of the records makes their acquisition by free websites such as very unlikely. It also makes the overall cost of digitizing and making the records available much more expensive.

The reverse side of the principle of economies of scale, i.e. the cost of digitizing smaller collections of records

Record acquisition and digitization are labor intensive and the equipment needed for high-quality images is still quite expensive. For these reasons, extensive record digitization efforts can achieve economies of scale. On the other hand, smaller projects with fewer records require that those same assets but must be used with far fewer records so the cost per record becomes a major concern. In other words, smaller collections have some of the same overhead considerations as larger collections making the cost per record much higher. Also, the logistics of obtaining smaller records are usually about the same as larger collections. The results are that there are distinct disincentives to acquiring smaller collections of valuable records.

Unrealistically restrictive copyright and other similar restrictions on historical records

Unfortunately, US Copyright law is vague and overly restrictive. Current copyright claims will likely be in effect longer and any person now living. Even old copyright claims dating back to the 1920s and 30s will likely be arguably enforceable longer than anyone now living. This could be called the "Mickey Mouse" effect. In both 1976 and 1998, the existing copyright interests were extended for up to 120 years from the year of creation. See the post, "How Mickey Mount Keeps Changing Copyright Law." Because the provisions of these laws are vague, all sorts of claims to copyright now cloud the ability of genealogists to access records online.

In other cases, record repositories claim a "contractual" ownership right to documents that are clearly in the public domain. These claims prevent the free use of all sorts of records, photographs, and other documents. Until there is a realistic overhaul of the copyright laws and a clarification of the unfounded claims by repositories, many valuable records will be subject to restricted access.

The unrealistic digital resolution and file format requirements imposed by those engineers and administrators of online collections thereby increasing inability of the larger collections to ingest smaller collections of records

This particular issue is less obvious than any of the other challenges facing genealogical access to digitized records. Essentially, those who are charged with developing the standards for online digital preservation impose unrealistic restrictions on the process of digitization. For example, we have long known that the highest resolution is approximately the equivalent of 170 dpi or PPI (pixels per inch) when viewed at 20 inches. In contrast, the average laser printer can print at 300 dpi or roughly double the eye's resolution. See "What is the highest resolution humans can distinguish." Presently, some of the digitization efforts going on around the world are using cameras that have up to 50 Megapixel sensors. Most of the documents being digitized could be adequately preserved with a camera of about 12 Megapixels the resolution of a present smartphone. The U.S. Library of Congress has established a publication called "Guidelines: Technical Guidelines for Digitizing Cultural Heritage Materials." Quoting from that publication concerning documents:
Image capture resolutions above 400 ppi may be appropriate for some materials, but imaging at higher resolutions is not required to achieve 4* compliance.
The practical effect of an artificially imposed higher standard is that many smaller collections are going to be lost because the large online genealogy companies refuse to ingest even images at the Library of Congress standard or make the process of obtaining images so complicated as to make smaller collections unfeasible.

The costs of maintaining ever larger databases including the costs of migrating the file formats over time

Even with the dramatic decreases in the cost of memory storage, huge online genealogical collections, especially those with photos, videos and audio files, can eat up huge amounts of memory into the hundreds of Terabytes. Adding in the cost of acquisition and maintenance makes this an extraordinary effort. Adding new records can have an incrementally higher cost. It is only a matter of time until these huge collections run into an economic and practical limit. However, there is a long way to go before this will happen. Right now, there is a major concern with the need to migrate existing collections as new file formats and operating systems evolve. Apple recently introduced a new file format for its smartphones, HEIC, and this will eventually affect the large online genealogy companies.

The lack of community standards for record formats and the inability of users to move records from one online family tree program to another

This is a major issue and I have written about this recently. Without community standards, each of the large online database companies is essentially an island of their own file formats. Without a standard way to exchange data, if one or more of these companies fail, much of their data could be lost.

Ignorance of the members of the genealogical community as to the identity and availability of online digital record collections

Let's face it. There is a constant loss of genealogical data due to genealogists who ignorantly or even intentionally fail to share their data and adequately prepare for its preservation upon their deaths. This attrition of records will always be a drag on preservation efforts.

There is always hope in the future and it is always possible that some or all of these issues will be resolved, but right now they stand as genealogy's greatest challenges.